Leadership Problem: Grace vs. Enabling

Cut people some slack.  Really, you never know what kind of a day they’re having, how bad their insomnia is, whether they’ve suffered a major loss, or whatever other darkness they carry.

Paul had an iPod in class, and earbuds in his ears.  This is a no-no, and standard procedure is to temporarily confiscate it for the day.  I reached out my hand, and he gave me a steely glare and said “It’s mine.  I’m NOT handing it to you.”

Uh-oh.

This is a bigger no-no, insubordination, and standard procedure can be anything from a detention to removal from class to suspension.

Big moment.  People are watching.  Precedents could be set.  What kind of message will I send?  Important to the story:  Paul is a nice guy.  Usually.  This behavior is NOT part of a pattern.  This is important.

I walked away as soon as he took the earbuds out.  I made no eye contact with him for the rest of the day.  I made sure his iPod stayed in his pocket, but that was the extent of my monitoring.

I walked away.  Paul got away with insubordination, and I ran the risk of setting a bad precedent.

I walked away.  What did people learn from seeing this?  Now, because I have a track record of high standards and good discipline (this is important), they did NOT learn “we can get away with anything”.  Instead, I hope they learned grace.

Because grace is something everyone needs to learn, and leaders sometimes act out of fear – “I’ll look weak!” we think.  Pick some moments to cut people some slack.

At least, you’ll inspire loyalty because you’ve shown compassion, and at best, you’ll teach grace.  And that can change the world.

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